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Top Chile

Villa O'Higgins

From Cruce Caleta Tortel, the Carretera Austral continues 211 kilometers (131 mi) south to Puerto Yngay on Fiordo Mitchell. A ferry (transbordador) carries vehicles and passengers across to Río Bravo, where the Carretera Austral continues to Villa O’Higgins, the end of the road. As the highway comes into town, it is Calle Hernán Merino. Midway down is the Aérodomo Río Mayer, Villa O’Higgins’ airport.


Villa O’Higgins is surrounded by mountains and native forest. In its center is the grassy plaza with the obligatory busts of the Chilean heroes. A covered wooden arcade provides shelter from the rain. On Sunday mornings, it’s the favorite napping spot for horses.


Villa O’Higgins is a 20th-century town. In 1903-1904 the Compañía Ganadera arrived in these parts to establish a massive cattle ranch stretching from the mouth of Río Mayer in Villa O’Higgins southward to the coast of Laguna El Río de las Vueltas and Laguna del Desierto in Argentina. When the Chilean government authorized colonization in the region, the Compañía began pulling out. Some workers stayed behind to settle a town along with immigrant European settlers. During the 1920s, Chileans also came to build their homes. President Eduardo Frei Montalva officially founded Villa O’Higgins in 1966. This was part of Padre Antonio Ronchi’s circuit in the 1970s and 1980s. One of his projects was the yellow church on the plaza, which now houses the Museo de la Patagonia Padre Antonio Ronchi, built in 1977 and which displays the life and work of the hardy folks of this area (If not open, ask at the tourism kiosk or the municipality. Ca. Río Bravo). At Estancia Las Margaritas, 23 kilometers (14.3 mi) from Villa O’Higgins is another church built by Padre Antonio Ronchi (6 km/3.6 mi north on the Carretera Austral, before the Río Baker bridge, is the turn-off to the estancia, which is 17 km/10.6 mi down that road). Before the Carretera Austral arrived in November 1999 and ties strengthened with the rest of Chile, people here only used the Argentine peso.


The town’s economy continues to be based on cattle raising and timber, as well as more and more, tourism. Several young artisans are reviving traditional Patagonian craft techniques, like rawhide braiding and woodworking, to create everyday utensils and souvenirs. Festivities here reflect these characteristics of the village:

First week of February – Bandeo de Animales desde Lago O’Higgins a Bahía Bahamóndez – a cattle drive

Second week of February – Encuentro Cultural Tropeando pa’ no Olvidar – a celebration of Villa O’Higgins' culture and traditions

September 20 – Aniversario – the town’s anniversary celebration with a Gran Asado (big barbecue)

Second week of November – Encuentro Cultural Regional Indígena – a regional meeting of indigenous peoples

Second week of December – Jineteadas del Mayer – rodeo time!


Even though people come to Villa O’Higgins just to do the border crossing to El Chaltén, Argentina, the village is a destination unto itself. Five trekking trails invite visitors out into the wilds. Starting from Cerro Santiago behind the town are three of these paths: Sendero Cerro Santiago, Sendero Río Mosco and Sendero Cerro Submarino. Another one, Sendero Humedales Río Mayer, goes to wetlands frequented by birds. The city has a detailed guide-map for these trails, as well as for Sendero Altavista, one of two Senderos de Chile in the region. The other is Tramo Ventisquero Chico, from Mansilla Candelario on the far side of Lago O’Higgins to Ventisquero Chico. For complete information, see Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins or visit The trails are best hiked September-April. The weather changes quickly, so if hiking, take rain and wind-proof clothing, water and high-energy food.Many of these trails may also be done on horseback. Another popular activity is sport fishing. During the summer, Hielo Sur does cruises around Lago O’Higgins to the foot of Glaciar O’Higgins (adults $100, children 8-14 $50, children under 8 years free, 11.5 hours).


Actually, the end of the Carretera Austral is not Villa O’Higgins. It continues another seven kilometers (4.2 mi) south to Puerto Bahamóndez on Lago O’Higgins. It is an amazing feat of engineering, with 90 curves. Here the great highway ends its 1247-kilometer (775-mi) journey from Puerto Montt. Hopes is someday this road will lead further south, passing through Argentina, to Puerto Natales – if a way around the glaciers, mountains and numerous lakes can ever be found.




During the summer, a tourism information kiosk is open on the plaza (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 2:30-5:30 p.m. Calle O’Higgins). At other times of the year, stop by the municipality (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 2:30-5:30 p.m. Lago Cristie 121, Tel.: 21-1849, URL: The Conaf office is at the end of Río Pascua. The town also has a first aid post, post office (Lago Christie and Río Mayer) and satellite phone. There is no bank or ATM; for money exchange, try Hielo Sur. Free Internet is available at the public library (Lago Christie and Río Bravo); the town is wired with WiFi, though the connection is unsteady.



Rolando Arratia works in reed and rawhide. Javier Cárdenas and Hugo Alvarado specialize in woodworking. A shop on Lago O’Higgins, between Río Mosco and Rio Bravo, sells fishing gear.



Hielo Sur (Carretera Austral, across from the airport, Tel.: 43-1821, E-Mail:, URL: – boat excursions to Glaciar O’Higgins and charter trips

Nelson Henríquez (Tel.: 21-1849) – fishing, horseback riding

Adolfo Guinao (Tel.: 43-1873) – horseback riding to local attractions and special excursions on the Ruta Los Colonos (from Villa O’Higgins to Cochrane)



North of the airstrip on the main road are several campgrounds.

Hospedaje Carretera Austral (RĂ­o Colorado and Lago Salto, Tel.: 43-1819) -- $10 per person

La Cascada (Lago Salto and RĂ­o Mosco, Tel.: 43-1833) -- $12-14 per person, kitchen

Hostería Villa O’Higgins (Lote 5, Predio Angelita, Tel.: 43-1870) – single $50, double $65



The town has four basic grocery stores, a butcher's and a bakery.

Restaurant-Bar Entre Patagones (Carretera Austral s/n, north entrance to town, Tel.: 43-1810, E-mail:

Restaurante Campanario (Lago O’Higgins 72)

San Gabriel (O’Higgins and Río Los Ñadis)



(Altitude:255 m / 837 ft, Population:approximately 500, Phone Code: 067)


Other places nearby Villa O'Higgins: Chile Chico , Reserva Nacional Jeínemeni, Puerto Chacabuco , Reserva Nacional Río Simpson, Puerto Ibáñez, Chaitén, Futaleufú, Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael , Puerto Río Tranquilo and Hornopirén Village.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

10 Jul 2009

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